Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice as the Conservative Party’s executive director has been pushed out after four months on the job, following an uproar over a local nomination race involving his spouse.
Dimitri Soudas stepped down on Sunday, party spokesman Cory Hann said. Mr. Soudas was said to have tendered his resignation to Senator Irving Gerstein, the party’s top fundraiser, on Sunday.
Mr. Soudas, a former spokesman for the Prime Minister, was approved as executive director in December after it was made clear to the party’s national council that he was Mr. Harper’s pick for the job. After Mr. Soudas took the job at the Conservative Party, he explained privately to people in Ottawa that he had received the request directly from Mr. Harper to return to the world of politics. He also portrayed his mandate as bringing back a greater efficiency to the Conservative machine after a series of political setbacks.
Mr. Soudas’s resignation is the latest blow for Mr. Harper’s team. Last fall, three senators he appointed – Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin – were suspended amid an ongoing investigation, and earlier this month the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Harper’s nominee, Marc Nadon. The departure also follows that of Mr. Harper’s ex-chief-of-staff, Nigel Wright, who stepped down in May, 2013 after it was revealed he gave money to Mr. Duffy to repay expense claims. The party also lost Senator Doug Finley, a key campaign figure, when he passed away last year.
Many of the faces familiar to Mr. Harper are no longer around as the party prepares for the next election. Mr. Soudas’s departure, in particular, leaves the Conservative Party switching executive directors at a time when local nomination battles are perking up as the party prepares for an election due in 2015.
Mr. Soudas was coordinating nomination races across the country for the party. But complaints surfaced over the past week about his involvement in a nomination contest involving his spouse, incumbent MP Eve Adams. It was revealed Mr. Soudas had dismissed a party organizer who’d complained to the party following a visit Ms. Adams made to a local board meeting, one where sources say some board members asked her to leave.
In emails to party officials, Conservative supporters criticized the “non-professional” dismissal of Mr. Butts and stressed he’d been an effective employee. Another suggested that Mr. Soudas had overstepped his role in dismissing Mr. Butts. At the time, the party would only say it was “running fair and open nominations” and declined comment on Mr. Butts.
Ms. Adams currently represents the riding of Mississauga – Brampton South, and is in the unusual position of campaigning for a nomination in another, nearby riding, saying she moved to Oakville last year and wants to seek a seat there.
The organizer, Wally Butts, wrote to party brass the next day, March 20, saying he was in an untenable situation – meant to deal with the board but also ultimately reporting to Mr. Soudas.
Mr. Butts was dismissed by Mr. Soudas on March 21, prompting complaints from Ontario Conservatives that Mr. Soudas was overstepping his role and getting involved in his spouse’s race.
Reached Sunday evening, Mr. Butts said he’d just heard the news. He’d previously said he’d consulted a lawyer since his dismissal from the party.
“I haven’t even had a chance to think about it, but I’d prefer not to talk about it until I talk to the lawyers about it,” Mr. Butts said, later adding: “I have no idea what’s going to happen here other than the fact I just heard he stepped down.”
Asked if he’d return to his job as a regional organizer – with the man who dismissed him now gone – Mr. Butts said “that’s something that’s going to be discussed.”
Mr. Soudas is also now expected to focus his attention squarely on Ms. Adams’ nomination battle, a date for which has not been set. He is said to be seeking work in the private sector.
The party’s chief information officer, Simon Thompson, will serve as interim executive director.